OBJECTIVE:

It remains unclear whether school environments can influence the emotional health of adolescents. In this large-scale prospective study, we use multilevel modeling to examine whether the school socioeducational environment contributes to the risk of developing depressive symptoms in secondary school students.

METHODS:

As part of a longitudinal study on school success in disadvantaged communities, 5262 adolescents from 71 secondary schools were followed annually. Socioeducational environment was assessed by a composite measure of social climate, learning opportunities, fairness and clarity of rules, and safety. Depressive symptoms were evaluated by using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale. Multilevel regressions tested the association between school socioeducational environment in grade 8 and depressive symptoms in grades 10 to 11, adjusting for previous depressive symptoms in grade 7 and potential confounders at the individual and school levels.

RESULTS:

Modest but significant variation in depressive symptoms was found between schools (intraclass correlation = 3.3%). School-level socioeducational environment in grade 8 was predictive of student depressive symptoms in grades 10 to 11, even after adjusting for potential school and individual confounders. This association was slightly stronger for girls. Student perceptions of school socioeducational environment were also predictive of depressive symptoms. Other school-level factors, including school size, were not predictive of depressive symptoms once socioeducational environment was taken into account.

CONCLUSIONS:

Adolescents who attend a secondary school with a better socioeducational environment are at reduced risk of developing depressive symptoms. School environments appear to have a greater influence on risk in adolescent girls than boys.

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